Recaro Aircraft Seating has welcomed Qatar Airways’ decision to openly discuss its plans for altering the Recaro economy-class seats on its new Boeing 787s, saying “there is nothing worse than a customer who doesn’t like something on your product but doesn’t tell you because you cannot improve and make them happy”. Recaro has also revealed details about how it intends to solve the problem.
In a candid interview with the APEX editor’s blog at the recent Farnborough air show, Qatar revealed it will alter the Recaro CL3620 seats on new-delivery 787s because the armrests do not completely retract back so that they can be flush against the seats. Flush armrests enable airlines to sell two seats to passengers of size (an issue of growing concern in the industry) as well as accommodate passengers with disabilities.
“We have a very open, honest communication with Qatar and they are also helping to make the seats better,” says Recaro Aircraft Seating Americas director of engineering Dr. Holger Friehmelt. “This openness with Qatar is highly appreciated and part of our good relationship with them.”
The aircraft seat’s armrest rotates around a joint (pictured right), which is attached to the seat spreader (see diagrams of a Recaro seat spreader in graphics below). To implement a fix Recaro needs to “allow more rotation in that part”, explains Friehmelt. “It requires some engineering expertise and some careful design because this is also the area where all the cables for the recline button and any audio installation like headphone jacks and control units run, so when you have moving parts you need to carefully duct those cables so they are not damaged.”
Nonetheless, replacing the joint represents “a slight modification”, says Friehmelt. He reveals that Qatar expressed the same concerns about the CL3620 seats on its Boeing 777s and that that fix “is currently being prepared”.
He adds: “It doesn’t require a lot of time. We usually would do this in one, possibly two overnights, or as part of scheduled maintenance.”
As previously reported Qatar is offering Thales audio/video on demand systems – with Android-based touch-screen handsets – on the 787, but the carrier will ultimately offer the brand new Android-based Thales AVANT IFE system on the twinjet. It appears the system will be offered beginning in 2013.
“It makes a lot of sense to do a different enhancement at the same time [as doing an update of IFE]. When you change the seat, you must update the documentation for the seat so instead of doing three updates of three stacks of papers, for instance, it makes sense to do it once, and combine those changes and reflect them in one update, and that would require STC [supplemental type certification],” says Friehmelt.
The new IFE will also be far more streamlined than what is currently present on Qatar’s first 787. The electronic box (pictured bottom right), for instance, “is gone and integrated into the AVANT display”, confirms Thales VP, product management Lori Salazar.
Recaro has become an expert in the intricacies of obtaining STC approval for lightweight seating designs, which helps to explain its tremendous popularity among airlines (American Airlines, for instance, recently announced it has picked Recaro to provide slim seats on its new three-class Airbus A321 narrowbodies, which will be deployed on transcontinental routes).
LESSONS LEARNT FROM QANTAS PROGRAMME
When using new materials, however, there can be a learning curve as Recaro found out when it developed seats for the Qantas Airbus A380. The carbon fibre CL3610 seat selected by Qantas boasted a carbon fibre beam. During design testing Recaro discovered that it needed to add sheet metal and additional add-on parts to attach the seat spreader, seat leg and seat bottom to the beam, which proved heavier than if they had simply gone with a metallic beam in the first place. “That was the evolution of that design; this is why we discontinued with carbon fibre beam and went to the aluminium beam on the CL3620 seen on Qatar,” says Friehmelt.
“It has resulted in a tremendous improvement in manufacturing time, and also it is lighter and has fewer parts – about 20% fewer parts on the CL3620.”
He says Recaro would never go back to the CL3610 design principle. “There has actually been an evolution of materials that are available for use in aircraft seating. When we started to do the CL3610 for Qantas, which was almost eight to nine years ago, that type of carbon fibre was readily available. Other intelligent smart materials were not available, but in the last couple of years there has been a great number of innovations including fibre-reinforced materials, and we have it on different seats including the CL 3610.”
How much does the CL3620 weigh on board aircraft? Says Friehmelt, “You cannot tell how much the seat weighs because it depends on the customisation, IFE, and the PC power supply [an airline] would like to have on that seat, so that makes every seat unique to that particular airline because every airline chooses a different configuration of parts and features on a seat and once they come up with that selection they do not disclose that weight publicly.”
(Graphics above pulled from Recaro’s 2011 report, “Use of Optimisation Techniques to Reduce Weight in Aircraft Seating”. Photos snapped by the author aboard the Qatar 787 at Farnborough.)